The comprehensive survey of over 1,000 Muslim-Americans released this week by the Pew Research Center was supposed to be a harbinger of good news, as evidenced by its title, “Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream“. And in many ways, it has positive things to report: most Muslim Americans buy into American ideals of hard work and opportunity, have many non-Muslim friends, are relatively educated and well off (only 2% are low income), and report being “happy” or “very happy” with their lives.
The survey also showed that Muslim-Americans views towards Israel are in line with other Americans (most believe that Israeli and Palestinian rights can be reconciled) and that they categorically reject extremism among Muslims. “What this survey shows is that Muslim Americans are largely assimilated, happy with their lives and moderate – mostly in contrast to Muslims in western Europe,” said Andrew Kohut, head of the Pew Research Center. “They also reject Islamic extremism to a much greater extent than Muslim populations elsewhere in the world.”
This might be the case, but you wouldn’t know it from reading the headlines covering the study, most of which are focusing on one troubling statistic: 8% of US Muslims – and 15% of US Muslims under 30 – believe that suicide bombings can be often or sometimes justified in the defense of Islam. With an estimate of 2.35 million Muslims in the US, this statistic has predictably caused some degree of alarm over the 140,000 or so Muslims that fall into this troublesome camp. “Jihad in America?” reads one headline, with other similar articles attracting angry comments. “It is a hair-raising number,” admits Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Washington-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. Indeed it is.
Using the alarmist logic that is currently being applied to US Muslims, the numbers would mean 72 million Americans are walking time bombs (or in support of them). Fair? Of course not. But the lack of a “control” demonstrates the inherent flaw in interpreting answers to questions like these – and both Pew researchers and rushed reporters should have known better.
Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com.